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Wednesday, 19 May 1920

India, 8s. 6d

The quantities of wheat that can be absorbed without going to Britain are -


The person from whom I ascertained the figures states that he is satisfied that the 18,500,000 bushels is worth 10s. per bushel here, f.o.b. The exchange rate would be practically 2s. 6d. Taking those prices, plus the £30,000,000 and exchange, their wheat is costing 13s. per bushel. Deduct from that 4s., leaves it at 9s., true value. I think we have reached a stage when we will have to make up our minds whether we are going to submit to the Prime Minister deciding for the Wheat Board. I am satisfied the Victorian Government will not accept that position.

Mr. Colebatchsaid ;

The constitution the Prime Minister quoted from makes the Australian Wheat Board the exclusive authority for fixing this price. You cannot go behind that. If the Australian Wheat Board fixes the price, it is not possible for the Prime Minister to go behind that. We suggested a price of 7s. 3d. in the first place, and he refused to agree. After a fortnight, the course of events made us submit 7s. Od., and he refused to agree to that. In regard to the course adopted of consulting the British Government, that was not unanimously approved of by the Wheat Conference, but we had to take it. You have all had more experience on the Wheat Board than I have, but I consider the proper course for us now to take is to fix the price, and communicate our decision to the Prime Minister, and leave it at that.

I then said -

I think we would be perfectly in order in carrying a resolution now re-affirming our decision -that the price for local consumption be 7s. Od'. per bushel, and pass it on- to the Prime Minister, and throw- the responsibility on him.

After further discussion, I said -

If you come in, and make it a unanimous vote, I am prepared to agree to the foregoing of the Id..

Mr. Ashfordsaid;

I am prepared to say publicly that no doubt to-day, taking the wheat there is, it is really below the price wheat could be sold outside

The price was finally fixed by the Australian Wheat Board at 7s. 8d. per bushel, and the decision conveyed to the Prime Minister, who, at that stage, was unable to be present, owing to a Cabinet meeting. In regard to the announcement of the price, it was agreed by the Board -

That the price of 7s. 8d. per bushel, as agreed upon, should operate not later than 1st February.

We felt so uncertain as to whether the Prime Minister would acquiesce in the decision we had made that we resolved that in the event of the right honorable gentleman not making the announcement by noon on the 31st January, Mr. Oman was to do so in behalf of the Board. However, the following statement by the Prime Minister appeared in the press on 31st January : -

After several conferences of the Ministers representing the various State Governments, and the representatives of the growers, it has been decided to increase the price of wheat for local consumption from 6s. 6d. to 7s. 8d., this rate to operate forthwith, and for the remainder of the current season- that is to say, until the end of the year. The avid demand throughout the world for wheat, in view ofthe leanness of the present year's crop, has created a very difficult position in Australia. There remains within Australia only sufficient unsold wheat for twelve months' supply, after providing for normal exports of flour. It is recognised that it would be most unwise to. oversell wheat and run the risk of subsequently having to import an inferior quality of wheat at much higher prices. As is well known, the New South Wales harvest was almost a failure, and that State will have to purchase from the other States an amount of not less than 12,000,000 bushels. The difficulty of the position which confronted the conference wa"s accentuated by inquiries that have been made by various countries to purchase wheat at substantially higher prices than have ruled recently. After considering all those factors, 7s. 8d. was fixed upon to meet the altered conditions. In compliance with the policy set before the people of Australia at the recent elections of paying to the farmers the local equivalent of the Londonparity on all export surplus, it was felt that large quantities of wheat should not he held with storage and interest, charges accumulating, while refusing such tempting offers.

To any one who had inside knowledge of what had happened, at the meetings of. the Board, the last paragraph in the Prime Minister's announcement was laughable in the extreme. In bringing this matter before the House so often, I have no desire to be vindictive towards the Prime Minister. I am quite prepared to concede to him any credit that is his due, but on behalf of the wheat-growers of Australia I have tried for some months to get a .pronouncement from the Prime Minister as to what he proposes to do in regard to the continuation of the Pool for this year. That was my object in moving the adjournment of the House last week. The Prime Minister said to members -of the Board, when they met him in conference, that, owing to the harsh criticism which1 had been levelled* at the Pool, he would not decide immediately one way or the other. Very much of the criticism which has been levelled at the administration- of the Pool has been justified. I have never levelled criticism at the Pool itself, and have always given credit to those who conceived the idea of it, because it was a first-class conception. But on many occasions the administration of it has been bad, and the Prime Minister has been one of the offenders. Criticism has been levelled not wholly and solely at the Prime Minister, but at all and sundry who have been' responsible for this bad administration. I do not know whether the right honorable gentleman intends to persist in his silence. I have tried by every means in my power to obtain a statement from him. We are faced with a guarantee of 5s. per bushel and abnormal shipping conditions. If the Pools are to be wound up, the employees of the State Wheat Commissions and of the Australian Wheat Board should be informed, so that they may have an opportunity to look for other billets. Then, again, we do not want to put on the market at the last moment the huge quantities of iron, timber, hessian, and other dunnage of which it will be necessary to dispose if the Pool is not to be continued. We should know at the earliest moment what is to be done, so that the interests of the growers may1 be safeguarded. The Prime Minister stated at Bendigo that his wish was to help the producers, but he is the only man who is preventing the continuation of the Pool for another year. We do not ask for a compulsory Pool for all time. What we wish for is the continuation of the Pool, under existing conditions, for this year only, and I think that we have a right to ask for that.

Mr Stewart - And the right to an answer.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - You have also the right to abuse to your heart's content the man who has done everything you want. A Minister is not a doormat. I am getting some of this kind of criticism in regard to the coal distribution.

Mr Mcwilliams - The Prime Minister looks for it pretty often.

Sir Robert Best - And gets it.

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